By Helen Norvell
Growing up in a family of eight, (a very poor family), in the cotton fields of North Carolina was a pretty hard life. Everyone in the family worked. I started picking cotton when I was seven. We didn’t own a car. In North Carolina, if you lived in the country, it was back in the woods. We lived back in the woods. Needless to say, we didn’t get out much. We did not go to town, did not go shopping, and did not go to church.
When I was growing up, children were seen and not heard. I can remember hearing my mother talking about the rapture and how she was looking forward to it.
I remember clearly, when I was 10 years old, sitting outside, leaning against the house, looking up into the sky, wondering, if God should call me to come up there, how will I get up there? I knew I could not get up there on my own. Of course in that day I did not know the scripture where God makes Himself evident to all. I’m speaking of Romans 1:19. Because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. God made Himself evident to me that day. That’s not to say I made a profession of faith that day. I didn’t even know I needed to.
On a Saturday not long after this time a preacher came to visit. Visitors were very rare for us, so this was a happy, happy day. He wanted to take us to church. Whoopee! We were so tickled, you wouldn’t believe. We, (not my Dad), started going to church. Every Sunday and Wednesday for six years, we were there. I admit it was more of a social event than anything else for me. Nevertheless, one Sunday the preacher’s daughter wanted me to go to the altar, so I did, and truthfully, I didn’t have a clue. I even got baptized but I was not saved. God had not called me.
When I was 16, I went to bed one night and couldn’t sleep. I’ve always had trouble sleeping. On this night, I lay there wondering, what if I die during the night? I didn’t want to go to hell. I got out of bed and kneeled and prayed that oldie, “if I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord, my soul to take”. I did sleep and awoke, and there I was alive and well. Nothing had changed. Life went on.
My life did drastically change when I was 16. My Mother passed away. My family was scattered. We all went our separate ways. I, being a teenage girl and thinking I was making the best of a very bad situation, got married. I had my first child at the tender age of 17. She passed away at the age of 6 months. This is very hard for me to talk about, so I will leave that. My husband took me away to another state and abandoned me. He married another while still married to me. After five years, I divorced him and remarried. Still no Jesus in my life.
Years went by, moving from place to place, state to state. I had four more children. I now live in West Virginia. When my children were old enough, I went back to school. I got my GED and went to a Vocational College. I got a good job, and things were looking up. I became very materialistic. I wanted all the things I never had as a child. My kids were going to have all that I did not. There is definitely no Jesus in that.
We bought a home, and very nice things to go in it. I had a dress-up job, so I accumulated clothes like you wouldn’t believe. My children had all the toys and clothes I could buy for them. Still I wanted more and more. I finally have the good life going and I still need more things. I’m not even thinking about God now.
There was an empty house to our right and a church about a block down on our left. I didn’t even want to go there. Pretty soon someone moved into the empty house. Guess who. A preacher! I avoided him at all costs. He wasn’t getting the same reception as the one that came when I was a child. I had my own perfect little world going on and I had no time for that. I didn’t want to hear it. Preachers are tenacious fellows though, so eventually the knock on the door came. I had to answer because he knew we were there. He turned out to be a pretty nice guy.
What stuck with me from that day to this is Ephesians 2:8-9. “For by grace you are saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God. Not by works lest any man should boast.”
I always like to emphasize “the”. It shows the importance of the gift of grace. However, I was not saved that day. I told him we were not “church goers”, but we might attend sometime.
It is amazing to me now how God began to work to get my attention. I kept on working, buying more things, just as happy as could be, I thought. God had a plan for me and He was about to get my attention.
While on lunch break at a fast food place with my husband, a lady I worked with came to tell us the preacher had called my workplace to tell me that my house was on fire! OH NO! We went tearing out of there. When we got to our house, or what was left of it, it was still smoking. There was the preacher. All I could think at the time was that I had to get my Bible and my baby’s pictures out of there. Oh yes, I had a Bible, I just never read it. I used it as a centerpiece on the coffee table. In that moment, it was very important to me. The preacher went into that smoking, cindering house with me. I got my Bible first then my baby’s pictures. They were the only things we could save. It was then that I knew God was calling me. I didn’t listen right away.
When we finally got a place to live, with very little to call our own, we got a visitor. That’s right, the preacher. This time, we told him we would be at church on Sunday because that scripture kept playing over and over in my mind. “For by grace are you saved, it is the gift of God.” We went to church on Sunday. I remember it so well. The best day of my life! The preacher spoke of how we are all sinners. I cannot save myself. I can’t work my way to heaven. I need a savior. God has given me a savior. It’s Jesus Christ. The gift of God. Christ called me that day, I came, and as Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished”.